Collins to work toward increasing visitation to Arkansas by groups and promoting the state's appeal
Chocolates from Cocoa Rouge
Christmas is one of those times when folks won't look at you funny for eating four pieces of pie in one sitting, even if you pile them up one on top of the other like a delicious pastry Jenga tower and shovel the lot into your needy gob with a garden trowel. The important thing is to not sully this opportunity to gorge with impunity with inferior foodstuffs. One way to avoid that is by picking up a box or 10 of assorted artisan chocolates from Cocoa Rouge out of Saline County. Each of these bite-sized delicacies is painstakingly handcrafted and made with the highest quality chocolate and other ingredients. Add to this some of the most attractive packaging around, and you've got a gift of distinction. MR
"My Name Is Doug Hream Blunt" ($11.99)
In October, Luaka Bop, the world music record label founded by Talking Heads front man David Byrne, released this reissue of Arkansas native Doug Hream Blunt's 1980s bedroom pop LP "Gentle Persuasion," which has been cited as a favorite by artists like Ariel Pink and Dam-Funk. The record is available on LP, CD and MP3, and the release features liner notes by writer Amanda Petrusich. Learn more (and buy a copy) at Blunt's new website: doughreamblunt.com. WS
Simple syrups, shrubs and bitters from Pink House Alchemy
There are so many great flavors of syrups, shrubs and bitters from Pink House Alchemy, and all of them are perfect for the cocktailian in your life. Invent new spins on classic cocktails, create delicious sparkling soda treats — or just let your imagination run wild with ways to use these flavorful concoctions. And for an exciting look at the personality behind the product, check out our profile of Pink House owner Emily Lawson, who the Times named as one of our 2015 Visionary Arkansans. MR
Spotify Premium ($10/month)
Buy a year's subscription to Spotify Premium for your older relatives. This is like the Netflix subscription of years past: a gentle holiday nudge toward new services that technophobe grannies will never take up on their own. It always turns out that the late adapters love it the most — no one loves Netflix today more than folks who said, once upon a time, "I don't see what's wrong with the VCR!" Likewise, I suspect Spotify's most devoted fans will soon be those who are replacing their heavily thumbed Case Logic books of CDs. The holiday spirit of receiving a gift gives courage to those taking the plunge into the new (well, new to them). Plus you get some nice bonding time showing them how it works, followed by a flood of emails titled "just found this on Spotify!" Proselytize, robots. DR
I don't want a lot for Christmas. There is just one thing I need and that is Haier Asia's Life Size R2-D2 Robot Refrigerator. There isn't a single person on the planet that wouldn't benefit from this beauty. It's perfect. When you get thirsty in the middle of a Star Wars marathon, all you need to do is call your good old friend R2D2 over and he will bring you a cold one. No more asking your significant other — no more favors owed. The force will be with you always: Thirsty never will you be! JG
Cool children's books
Getting to read to your kids is one of the great joys of parenthood — perhaps second only to finding books that will keep them occupied for more than five minutes on their own while you stare at a wall or do whatever it was you did before you had kids. To that end, some recommendations for beautifully and intricately designed children's books that everyone in the family will enjoy:
Everything that Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski put out is essential. The young, prolific Polish husband and wife are the authors and illustrators of "Maps," a whimsical and richly detailed atlas that's full of illustrations of cultural, historical and zoological facts about dozens of countries. It's not comprehensive, but there's plenty to keep kids' attention for years. One of mine first looked at it just to pick out his favorite animals. Now he knows his continents. Countries and capitals next.
The Mizielinksis are behind the "Mamoko" books ("Welcome to Mamoko," "The World of Mamoko in the Time of Dragons," "The World of Mamoko in the Year 3000") that track dozens of anthropomorphic animals and monsters in wordless adventures through strange lands. It's one of those reader-becomes-the-narrator series that kids can have fun with on their own.
"Sky High" by Swiss author and illustrator Germano Zullo is about neighboring rich guys who get caught up in a race to build the tallest and most ornate mansion-skyscraper. It's delightfully absurd and beautifully designed. Plus, it offers a fitting lesson for the season about the perils of conspicuous consumption.
For really young kids, you can't get better number, shape and letter books than the collections by minimal realist illustrator Charley Harper. LM
Skull ($24.99) and Coup ($14.99)
For those who love the rush of a poker bluff but hate losing money, I recommend Skull or Coup, two very different strategy board games built on logic, deception and just enough randomness to piss everyone off.
In Coup, two to six players assume shifting roles to vie for political dominance in a sleekly dystopian future, although the game creators wisely keep the focus on strategy and human interaction, not hokey world-building. It therefore takes only about 20 minutes to play, a blessed departure from those three-hour Risk or Monopoly sinkholes. Allegedly descended from a West Coast biker gang ritual, Skull (three to six players) distills bluffing to its most elegant form. The mechanics are so ingeniously simple that Skull could be replicated with index cards, coasters or just about anything, but the art is entrancing enough to make it worthwhile to purchase. A game takes 30 to 45 minutes.
Skull and Coup can be ordered through Little Rock retailer Game Goblins, and even if you buy both, that's probably cheaper than a bad night of Texas Hold 'em`. BH
Oxford American Georgia Music Issue ($15.95)
The Oxford American magazine's annual music issue, on newsstands now, focuses this year on the state of Georgia. There are features on the Allman Brothers, OutKast, Little Richard, the Athens music scene, swing music pioneer Fletcher Henderson, country music pioneer Fiddlin' John Carson, Janelle Monáe, Blind Willie McTell, Killer Mike and Johnny Mercer, plus less known but seminal moments from the state's music history, like the Cabbagetown indie rock scene of the 1990s and the Savannah metal scene of recent years. (I contributed to the issue, as did former Times associate editor David Ramsey). There's also a 25-song CD compilation. WS
It used to be that a dorm room wasn't complete without a poster of a golden-phase painting by Gustav Klimt. Now, my own daughter's dorm room walls (and now her apartment walls) were covered with posters of various Korean pop groups, but had I gone to 1000museums.com and bought her Klimt's "Fulfilment," or Tom Uttech's "Enassamishhinjijweian" (the bear and birds in the American north woods), or maybe that Alfred Maurer painting "Girl in a Red Dress" that looks like me so she wouldn't forget her mother, she would have put them up, too. Well, maybe not the Maurer. Or maybe you are buying a poster for yourself? There are a zillion posters to choose from at 1000museums, or, if you want to narrow down the selection some, go to crystalbridges.org and order one from the museum's collection that you have admired. The dealer is the same in both instances, so the prices are the same: $49 for unframed and $215 for framed. I have no idea where K-Pop posters come from. LNP
Catfish & Co.
Plug, plug: The Arkansas Times has an online store filled with all sorts of awesome T-shirts, back issues and books. You'd be hard pressed to find more entertaining histories of Arkansas than the books Bob Lancaster put together for us in the '90s ("A History of Arkansas: In Stories and Pictures" and the "Almanac of Arkansas History"). And surely you know someone who needs our new Arkansas Times "vintage" T-shirts with the logo from the era when the Times was battling the Dixie mafia and writing a lot about sexy camping. You'll find that and much, much more at arkcatfish.com. LM
Little Rock gear
If you're shopping for someone from Little Rock or who has a strong affinity for Little Rock and this person doesn't look silly in a hat, it's hard to go wrong with a Little Rock "LR" New Era cap. It's a great, iconic design that's available in fitted and snapback varieties. Rock City Kicks, with locations in Little Rock, Conway and Fayetteville and online at rockcitykicks.com, has the most variety and, new this year, the same design in red and black toboggans with knit poms on top. You can also find them at the Arkansas Travelers gift shop and elsewhere. For those with hometown pride who can't pull off a hat, Domestic Domestic (online at domesticdomestic.com or in the Heights) sells black-and-white LR socks. LM
Sometimes the holidays need a little lubrication to get everyone to drop the cares of the world into a nice haze of peace on earth and good will toward men. Lucky for us here in Arkansas, we've got a wide variety of potent potables available, so no matter what tastes you're catering to during the season, there's no reason that what you're pouring should have anything other than Arkansas on the label. Craft beer from the likes of Ozark Beer Co., Moody Brews, Diamond Bear and Core Brewing are all worthy of a spot in your fridge, even if you have to take one for the team and eat that entire sweet potato casserole in order to make room. Drink your holiday dessert with Rock Town Distillery's Apple Pie lightning, or treat the whiskey lover in your life to Arkansas's own award-winning craft whiskey. And of course our wineries have been making vino for over a century, so raise a glass to them, too. MR
There are still good people in the world, and some of them are in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, England, at Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital. Perhaps you remember Beatrix Potter's Mrs. Tiggy-winkle, the hedgehog washerwoman? Her namesake hospital treats injured wild animals, from hedgehogs (lots of hedgehogs are injured in Britain, for some reason) to badgers to owls to deer. The website, sttiggywinkles.org.uk, will make you feel all happy inside, with its pictures of little hedgehogs with tiny casts on one leg, and you can donate or buy a virtual gift, like a bucket of maggots for £16. There will always be an England, right? And to top things off, you can also buy a hedgehog ornament at Box Turtle, 2616 Kavanaugh Blvd., for $13. LNP
"My Struggle" books 1-4, by Karl Ove Knausgaard ($9-$16)
For a certain reader, nothing says holiday cheer like a death-obsessed Norwegian recording minute details of his everyday life over the course of 2,000 pages (another 1,000 pages are on the way; volumes 5 and 6 await publication in English translation). As Knausgaard takes a maximalist approach to memoir, this is the maximalist approach to gift-giving; instead of the lagniappe of a single novel, go all in with four volumes of immersive, often tedious, addictive Knausgaard. This gift will either deepen your bond with the recipient or end it forever. DR